QuickPlay Horse Racing Software







Minimize Losses: De-Activate Action Bets
- By Charles Carroll

One dangerous little piece of folklore that has crept into the horseracing literature is that action bets are perfectly normal parts of a players dayto keep Jack from becoming a dull boy.  I know Im guilty here myself I've contributed to it, both in writing and with my own dollars until a few years ago.  We're gamblers, after all, and we need some ac-cion to keep our hearts pumping and blood pressure balanced.  Action bets are small, $2, $5, or $10 betsequivalent to buying a lottery scratcherwhich you toss around for fun while you work on the serious business of managing your serious money for serious bets and serious profit.

Often action bets are complete flyersyou glance up from your work and notice the post parade for a Maiden Special Weightthat you didnt even handicap and would never throw serious money atbut you like a certain prance in an unraced fillys step and the way shes holding her earsa quick look at the breeding, pow!  Two bucks.  Or you notice a spot play that you read about once in a magazine and the author said it returned a flat-bet profit (for two days once, at Finger Lakes).  But one of the biggest reasons for our acceptance of action bets is that handicapping is work, a fun kind of work, but work nonetheless, and often far more often than we admit the results of all that hard work tells us to sit firmly on our wallets.  Thats not the answer we want to hear, even when its our own brain telling us its the rational thing to do.  If I take a race apart, I want a stinking bet.

But the psychology of action bets is not even that simple.  Wouldn't it be great to handicap, doing whatever you do, whether its pace, speed, comprehensive dosage factorializing, whatever, and come to a clear, firm decision?  Stay out.  Or, bet with both hands.  But this is a game of probabilities, so that rarely is the outcome.  Personally, I end up with an odds line that is my representation of what the probabilities of finish and payout should be.  I work until the last moments of public odds-flux to determine how to shape the bet.  The process can be rather exciting make that freaking stressful, if it is a major bet.  Youre sparring with the public.  Wondering, down to the last minute if youve second-guessed their odds correctly.  At that moment, with the clock to post time ticking, its sort of like hitting the end of the bungie line to simply throw it all in the air and Pass.  At that point, I want to bet.  At that stage of a race, Im totally immersed in the odds and the reason for passing is that the odds are not correct for my best handicapping results.  This situation screams for a pass, while your brain is screaming Bet!  And, this can lead to rationalizing a value bet on a theoretical overlay that wasnt part of your primary scheme, which translates into one of the most dumb-ass bets you can make, even if it is at low, action levels of 2 or 5 bucks.  You just saw your correct odds scenarios go up in flames.  How do you figure taking a shot outside them constitutes value?

Back when action bets became acceptable practice among serious players (as opposed to those fellows for whom all bets are action bets), they really werent that bad.  At the risk of dating myself: Yes, Dorothy, there was a time before simulcasting.  During that dark dim past, you actually went to a racetrack.  You spent at least two or three hours the night before, handicapping with the paper Form (remember paper?).  A few really obsessive fools made 200-mile round-trips to get the Form the night before, then the same trip the next day to the track.  (Al Gore did not invent the Internet ,GOD DID, in direct response to my prayers for a locally available past performance data equivalent to the Racing Form.  Hallelujah!)

Horseracing used to be a participatory sport.  You drove to a track, where there were horses, hay, dirt, and grassmaybe a flamingo or two.  You walked over to the paddock to see if any of your picks were walking on three legs, and maybe followed the post parade out along the rail, until they trotted off to warm up, then maybe even glassed them for a while, before finalizing your selections and laying down your money.  If you were serious, you selected your shots carefully, and might have only one or two (or none) on an entire days cardand that days card, maybe ten races was IT.  If you had picks in the third and eighth races, you were at the track not only to pound those two bets, but to also hone your knowledge and skills, watching all the other races, watching the interplay of the public odds with minor events, maybe developing your own spot plays, watching the rubes and the wise guysso, if you were there to place two $50 or $100 or larger bets, what was the problem with a little ac-cion?  Two bucks here, five bucks there, not too often no big deal.

It was not a big deal thenand it is probably still not a big deal nowunder certain circumstancesThe primary one is if you are placing action bets to test ideas.

I love simulcasting because I love the availability of numerous races from around the country that fit my style and betting criteria.  I get lots of action.  If this is the environment you work in, there is too much action to continue with the folklore of action bets.  You no longer have the excuse of being faced with 40 or 80 minutes of down-time because there is an unraced field of Maiden Special Weights and a Turf marathon race before the next opportunity to bet.  There are now plenty of opportunities and the job is to decide which is best.

There is really only one justifiable reason for action bets:  to learn somethingfor the purpose of improving prime bets later.  It takes at least a buck or two to test ideas.  Statistics and paper bets are important parts of the learning process, but for me, I have to wince a little to drive points home.  Ive done a lot of research on horse racing and I know pretty much what the results are, butmaybe its because Im such a skinflintnot many ideas stand out to me like the many where Ive had a crummy $2, $5, or $10 riding on them and then whacked my forehead with the heel of my hand when the test results were negative.  Wait a minute.  Maybe were on to something here.  Quick, whack your forehead!

There are two great lessons about simple money management to be learned from BlackJack, and neither one requires any kind of Kelley-criterion-like formula.  First, unlike BlackJack, you do not have to ante up for each race.  No one is going to ask you to leave the table if you do not lay money down at every option.  The second is, although you dont have to play every hand in horse racing, you do have to stay on top of your game.  Convert your small, action bets to testing bets, and record them, just like your prime bets.  Thats one of the really insidious things about the old action bet mind-setbettors frequently did not record them, even if they did keep decent records on prime bets.  Recording them does two things.  First, since you should only be making them to learn something, recording the bet and outcome makes a note for the future.  Secondly, and more importantly if, over the years you have developed a cavalier attitude about action bets, youre probably going to have an eye-popper of an awakening when you tally up the cost-over-time.

If you find that your action bets are taking a greater chunk out of your pocket than the track takeout, then youve got a problem.  Not that this has ever happened to me, you understand, but I once had a friend.

In the next few weeks well take a look at the economics of $100-a-day bettorswho, by all accounts, are the most common type among usand see why the action bet is just one reason why the $100-a-day bettor will, almost always, go home lighter.  But first, next week, well see why that ominous-sounding fact does not mean that $100-a-day bettor cannot produce a long-term profit.